Saturday, September 04, 2021


The Khirbet al-Ra`i  inscription (LYRBB`L) 

Prepare to be shocked as I bring to light more of the unintentional errors  that are being committed in the chaotic field of ancient West Semitic epigraphy by its honest labourers; lampooning is my word, in the added sense of shining a smiling lamp on the follies of scholars, and I will indeed be making fun of my ideas and theirs (if I restrained from laughing about them, I would be weeping uncontrollably), but with respect and gratitude for the services my colleagues  have rendered to me.
   This essay follows on from the one on Lakish inscriptions, and they form a combined statement of my life's work in this research area:

   Here is yet another new inscription, although not from Tel Lachish but from another ruin-mound in its vicinity, namely Khirbet al-Ra`i (er-Ra`i). (Note the variations in spelling; and I prefer Lakish rather than the Anglo-Hebrew Lachish.) Three fragments of an inscribed pot (possibly a jug holding 1 litre) were rescued from a silo, which had apparently become a pit for rubbish; these were the only pieces of the artefact that could be identified among the debris; this could support a case for these sherds having been brought from elsewhere, as a souvenir of some great event, but ultimately discarded by someone who did not see any significance in them; I am referring to the smashing of pots in Gideon Yerubbaal's battle with tribes from the East (Judges 6:33; 7:10-22); and that name YRB`L is what we seem to have here.
   Wherever Yosef Garfinkel excavates, important ancient inscriptions will turn up, as has happened at Khirbet Qeiyafa (Sha`arayim) and Tel Lachish (Lakish, LKYSh, Tell ed-Duweir). Yossi is not an epigrapher, he confesed to me when I told him that his Qeiyafa ostracon mentions a giant (`anaq) named Guliyut, and a "servant of Elohim" named Dawid; he rejected the counsel of this "elder" and turned to the "young men" (yladim, "lads") "who had grown up with him" (namely Misgav and Sass), as did King Rehab`am, son of Solomon, when he lost the northern tribes to Yerob`am, and was left with only the territory of Yehuda (Judah) as his kingdom (1 Kings 12:6-17). Actually, this is what happened to Yossi Garfinkel, as he was stranded with a Qeiyafa and two inscriptions belonging impossibly to a King David of a kingdom of Yehuda, instead of King Saul (of the tribe of Binyamin) and his son Eshbaal, reigning over a united kingdom of Israel (1 Samuel 9-31, 2 Samuel 1-4).
   This time Christopher Rollston was the epigraphist who studied the latest Garfinkel inscription, and, according to his lights,  he has published it efficiently but not sufficiently, as no consideration is given to the possibility that it is syllabic rather than  Early Alphabetic (the all-embracing term covering a multitude of signs, to counterfeit a phrase from Holy Writ).

   Inscriptions are arriving in rapid succession, before I have had time to successfully settle my interpretation of the previous ones, but I will drop everything to confront this interesting triptych (notice that it has three parts). It is touted as bearing the name of one of the Judges (charismatic saviours of early Israel, before kingship was established).  That is true, or half-true, since there is no indication that this actually belonged to the character we know from the Bible (Judges 6-9). It apparently has the name  YRB`L (Yerubba`al, reading right to left), but for full identification purposes  it would need to say "YRB`L H' GD`N" (Judges 7:1), "Yerubba`al, that is, Gid`on",  and with his surname added, GD`N BN Y'Sh, Gid`on ben Yo'ash (Judges 6:29, 8:29-30), which is dreadfully anglicized as "Jerubbaal, that is Gideon son of Joash". His name also occurs in a sanitised form, Yerubbesheth (2 Samuel 11:21), where Ba`al is replaced by a word for "shame" (usually bosheth), as happened to the son of Saul named 'ShB`L (on the Qeiyafa consonantal inscription),  and 'Eshba`al in 1 Chronicles 8:33, but 'Îsh-Bosheth (Man of Shame) in 2 Samuel 2-4.
   We do not know the original name of the town that is now "The Ra`i ruin" (Khirbet ar-Ra`i); Garfinkel would like it to be Ziklag (s.qlg), the town given to young David when he was working for the Philistian King of Gath (1 Samuel 27:5-6); we could have hoped for the toponym to be written on these sherds, but it seems to be a personal name, or perhaps a prayer extolling Baal.
   Let us assume, for argument's sake, that the hypothetical YRB`L sequence of letters on this pot is referring to the Judge Yerubba`al Gid`on son of Yo'ash of the tribe of Manasseh (Judges 6:11, 15, 32); for his achievements in driving out the Ishmaelite invaders (Judges 8:24), including "Midianites and Amalekites, and the people of the East" (bny qdm) (6:33),  he was offered dynastic kingship over Israel, but he is said to have declined this honour, affirming that Yahweh was already the King of Israel (Judges 8:22-23), though he subsequently lived like a ruler, with a harem of women, and produced dozens of sons, one of whom he named Abimelek (8:31), possibly meaning "My Father is King"; and this Abimelek slew all but one of his brothers (Yotam) and seized kingship for three years, until he was killed by a woman who dropped a millstone on him (Judges 9; 2 Samuel 11:21).
   In support of the hypothesis that the correct reading of the inscription on the pot is YRB`L, and that this is the Yerubba`al of the Book of Judges,  the dating seems to be right (late 12th C - early 11th C BCE), and the names Gid`on and Yerubba`al  are unique, within the Bible. On the other hand, Yerubba`al is associated with the town of Oprah (6:11), where he erected an altar to Yahweh (6:24), and destroyed an altar of Ba`al, and cut down an Asherah (6:25-32); and it was then that he received his new name Yerubba`al, said to mean "Let Ba`al (himself) plead (or contend)" against him (Gid`on) for pulling down the altar (6:32), rather than leave it to the immediate judgement of the lynch mob that confronted Gid`on after this act of sacrilege. However, with regard to the meaning of the name, we could look for a connection with RB, "great" or "much, many", and the verb for "multiply" in Genesis 1:28 ("Be fruitful and multiply") producing perhaps "Ba`al is magnificent", or "Ba`al gives increase"; Ba`al was the god of the clouds, who provided the fertilizing rain; his name was Haddu or Hadad, Thunderer, but he is commonly known by his title, Ba`al, meaning Lord, and this epithet could conceivably be applied to Yahweh, who sent the rain in its season to Israel; but the prophets (particularly Hosea, 2:16-17) ended this confusion, and names with Ba`al went out of fashion. One might expect yerub ba`al to mean "he opposes Ba`al", of course.
   After his battles with the eastern invaders, "Yerubba`al son of Yo'ash" settled down in his own city, `Oprah (8:29); and when he died he was buried in the family tomb at `Oprah (8:32). It would be helpful if `Oprah could be identified with Tell al-Ra'i (between Gath and Lakish), but `Oprah (`Ophrah) must be further north, and Khirbet `Awfar, 6 km SW of Shekem, has been suggested (Rainey, Sacred Bridge, 139-140); Shekem (Shechem) was where Gid`on had a concubine, who gave birth to his wicked son Abimelek (8:31).
   The discomfiting of the invaders took place in the Valley of YZR`'L (Jezreel), in the north, and the strategy that caused the panic in the enemy camp involved smashing pots containing lighted torches, leaving a mess of sherds on the ground. Yerubba`al became a celebrated hero, and a visitor to the battlefield may have found these three souvenirs and taken them home; remember, no other piece of this pot could be found in the silo. This vessel (for one litre of liquid?) was perhaps too small for this purpose. Or, Yerubba`al could have become a favourite name to give to boys after the hero's victory. Whatever the truth of the matter, this inscription could refer, in some way or other, to the Warrior-Judge named Gid`on Yerubba`al.
   Conversely, we could turn the text upside down or downside up; Rollston (page 11) has tried the possibility that it could be L`BRY, "for `bry", if read backwards, that is, dextrograde rather than sinistrograde); and with the text inverted, the L and the `ayin are acceptable, the B looks much more natural, the Yod is passable, and the R is now a door with its post; hence L`BDY, "for my servant", and with `BD we have an echo of the Lakish rectangular proto-syllabic sherd (working the garden), and a pre-echo of the Qeiyafa neo-syllabic ostracon (my servant, the servant of God, Dawid). Of course, we do not need to invert the inscription to get that reading; just change the direction of reading it.
   If we are really desperate, we could take `BR as a variant form of `Oprah, and reject any other identification of the place.

   Time now to examine more closely the ink-marks on the three sherds. The two large pieces have been satisfactorily joined, uniting the two parts of the dotted circle; the third portion has been left separate, but it seems to be pleading with us to place it in the gap below the circle-sign, where its marks could join up with those below the eye-sign; nevertheless Rollston insists (8): "the third fragment does not form a join". There are apparently ink marks at the the left end  of the united pair, but we search in vain for GD`N among the incomplete letters. Proceeding from that point, we can be confident that we are looking at a coiled Lamed, and this would tell us that the text is not proto-syllabic, since the proto-syllabary derives its LA-syllabogram from the mystical night-symbol of Egypt (see Photos 9, 13, 14 in the essay on Lakish inscriptions), and, presumably by coincidence, the proto-syllabary sign resembles the modern square Hebrew Lamed, starting with the vertical stroke at the top. However, this 6-shaped letter can be LA in the neo-syllabary, reversed when traveling from left to right, the normal direction for the neosyllabary. Therefore we are watching a contest for recognition between the neo-syllabary and the neo-consonantary. If these "neologies" are new to you, they have been explained at length in my examination of the various inscriptions from Lakish. In summary, West Semitic writing began with the proto-syllabary (the Byblos/Gubla logo-syllabary), out of which came the proto-consonantary (the long proto-alphabet), which was reduced to the neo-consonantarty (the short proto-alphabet), out of which another syllabic system emerged, the neo-syllabary; after that, the Phoenician alphabet (a short consonantary) held sway, and was remoulded into the Greco-Roman true alphabet, with letters representing the vowels.
   Next in our backward movement comes the dotted circle; the possibility of this being a sun-symbol and proto-syllabic SHI or proto-consonantal Sh is remote (though a tiny projection at the top and ink marks at the bottom suggest a serpent), but if these details are set aside it would be  `ayin (eye with pupil) in the neo-consonatary and `A in the neo-syllabary.                                                                        
   B for Ba`al is expected, and a house with an open door awaits us; the diagonal line has lost its ink, but it is discernible, and it constitutes an unusual Bet, being an inverted form of the B on Lakish bowl 08, but quite different from the  type on Lakish bowl 05 (at the end of each line). Incidentally, all four of those Lakish texts exhibit a yod (or two), all basically the same, but different.


However, an exact counterpart of the B (well not exactly exact) is found on the proto-consonantal abgadary from Thebes (top right), and to its left is a door (D), looking like the alleged R in the new inscription, but here the R is situated centre left, horizontal stance, and it has an eye and a hair-line.

Looking at the faded oblique Q (--o<), lower centre (below the fish, Samek), I am compelled to re-examine the dotted circle on the pot-fragments, and consider whether it is Q. It has two protruding matks at the top, which could be the ends of the stick and the cord, and it has ink marks which could be remains of a stem. I have encountered two kinds of doubling dots: a pair of dots above the letter (see the Theban tablet reproduced further below, double Q); one dot inside the letter (examples in the Sinai inscriptions), and here the dot could produce BQQ, (1) devastate, (2) proliferate. Even more devastating and proliferating is the possibility of seeing a D for dalt (door), instead of R for rosh (head), producing DBQ, "join together", as with the first human couple (Genesis 2:24); if nothing else, this chimes in with our problem of making a unity of our three sherds. In either circumstance, YRB`L drops out of the picture. Without the entire inscription (though I will eventually contend that the three pieces constititute a complete text of six letters: LYRB`L) we have to cling (dbq) to Gid`on Yerubba`al as our judge and saviour from devastation (bqq). 

   Before I can complete the case that is already mapped out in my mind, I have to confront the nuisance of a variant opinion, which suggests that the first letter in the name is not Y but Z. 
   Nevertheless, while this valuable Theban document is here before us, displaying the letters of the proto-consonantary, we can brush up our expanding knowledge of the consonantograms, particularly the ones that disappear in the shortened neo-consonantary (I have to warn you that extreme self-discipline is required for success in this mental exercise, and you need to refer constantly to my chart at the end of this essay, and you must contrive to make a printed copy of it for yourself).

  The rarest (and here the faintest) graphemes are situated to the right of the Q we have just identified, and they are G (vine with grapes, eventually to be absorbed in `Ayin, eye, which is in the bottom left area with a K on top of it) and Z. (sunshade,  look for an umbrella) which will yield to S.adey, the tied bag, rejected as such on the establisment sign-tables, but  seen on the Lakish dagger, and here). Incidentally, a tall (o-+ not (+), cross inside circle) is on the other side of the Qaw.
(tad breast, vertical) is to the right of the Q, and Sh (sun-serpent, with or without the sun-disc) is bottom right, below H (hank); and Sh will coalesce with Th (this human breast will eventually become Greek Sigma and Roman S), and H will be lost in, the mansion with a courtyard (h.z.r), in the opposite corner.
   Observe the clear instance of D (=) in that top left area of the tablet, and then find the large Z (|><|) in the opposite corner; I admit that it escaped my notice for years, but it is certainly there; its top triangle is snaller than its triangular base; the problem is that two of its four lines have lost their ink (as with the Q; and we may have this phenomenon in our YRB`L inscription). On another tablet from Thebes we see the D and Z together (with an unmistakable P-mouth, and a cord-on-stick Q, but without the string poking out at the top, and notice the two doubling dots above it):

     Concerning the name of Q: whereas I maintain that the dominant sign was Qaw (cord), in all four types of ancient West Semitic writing (syllabic and consonantal), nevertheless its current name is Qop (monkey), and I have seen evidence that sometimes a drawing of this animal was employed  for Q; this is not the case in the set of tablets from Thebes that we are studying here, but this important new document from a Theban tomb has the monkey, I suspect.

   My ongoing preoccupation with identifying the letters is recorded here

 Returning now to Khirbet er-Ra`i, new readings are being offered to its inscription.

 It is not unreasonable to question whether the first letter on the right is really Y (Yod), since its top part is missing; I have already considered the possibility that the `ayin is Qaw, and after looking at that Theban abgadary, I have asked whether the R is a door (D) rather than a human head. The sparring among experts that the reporter Ruth Schuster is highlighting (in her newspaper article) does indeed concern the first letter, and it may have been preceded by other lost letters, everyone must allow, though I will suggest that half of the missing letter is there, below the two vertical parallel lines, and the rest of it is on the third sherd, together with the arm (yad, Yod) that has been separated from its amputated hand.
   Howbeit, we must settle this disturbance of our peace. David Vanderhooft of Boston College admits that the letter in question is possibly a Yod, but he prefers a Zayin (| |); and Christopher Rollston  responds by conceding this possibility, but he adds authoritatively: "I work heavily in this script, and so I am very comfortable with the way we are reading it". Yossi Garfinkel gives his support to Rollston's reading,  judging him to be "the leading epigrapher in this field". Of course, some of Rollston's failings have been  revealed,  in the course of our previous journey through the "Early Alphabetic" inscriptions, and if this text is syllabic he will be perplexed.
   In the present instance, the error that Vanderhooft and Rollston have unwittingly made is asserting that the pair-of-lines letter (=) is Z, when I have been painstakingly pointing out that it represents D, and the true Z is a couple of triangles (|><|), as we saw on two Theban tablets (immediately above). Albright and Hamilton rightly have = as D, so this is a serious lapse of concentration. We should not expect to see this consonantogram in the Iron Age; it is a product and a protagonist of the proto-consonantary in the Bronze Age; it is not in the neo-consonantary or the neo-syllabary; the double triangle replaces it, and |><| eventually becomes |--| (vertical or horizontal).
   Once again we see scholars from the field of Iron Age epigraphy and palaeography (covering the Phoenician consonantary and its offshoots, the national alphabets) showing their lack of expertise with regard to the West Semitic scripts of the Bronze Age and the early Iron Age. Here comes another one into the fray, from Texas, and he is quick on the draw: "Prof. Doug Petrovich, an expert on ancient Hebrew epigraphy and the alphabetic script of the second millennium BC"; I would be tempted to add the word "novice" to this testimonial. Notwithstanding, Douglas is standing with me beyond the pale, looking over the fence at the antics of the consensus contestants on the field of mock battle. Some time ago  he approached me for a crash course on the proto-alphabet, and in the twinkling of an eye (yes, one eye) he stormed into the most ancient West Semitic inscriptions from Sinai and Egypt; he also published an article on the Ophel pithos inscription from Jerusalem (PEQ 147, 2015, 130-145) which involved (as with the Yerubba`l pot) reconnecting a severed hand with its arm (two arms and hands already) to restore YYN (wine), an idea first suggested by Gershon Galil, and provisionally accepted with modifications by myself.
   At that stage, Douglas was happy to publish the current form of my table of signs (also appended here, below; it has my name on it but not the copyright symbol, so I am happy to see it freely and widely divulged); he reproduced it in his article, but then re-produced it in a revised version in a thoroughly personal account of the origin of te alphabet, for Fox News and other outlets (including a paper delivered at the ASOR annual meeting in 2016, which was received with horror, I am told; the OR in ASOR stood for "Oriental Research", but this had to be changed to indicate "outside America", and "Overseas" was chosen, rather than "Outlandish" in its archaic meaning): "Hebrew as the world's oldest alphabet" was the enigmatic title of the Petrovich article, explicated as a study of "the proto-consonantal inscriptions of Egypt's Middle Kingdom", based on the supposition that Israelites resident in Egypt at that time turned hieroglyphs into alphabetic letters; and this intriguing idea was hastily expanded into a book, and this un-infallible and un-inerrant tome is now pleading for funds to be reprinted, though I can see that it needs some revision. Well, I notice that he seems to be recognizing the proto-consonantary, but he makes a short alphabet of it. Nevertheless, as I gaze with awe at his table of signs, I feel gratified that someone has listened to me: the door is D, the fish is S, the mouth is P, the bag is S. (Sadey), the cord on the stick is Q, the nefer symbol is T. (+-o); all these are missing in action on the consensus establishment's honour-roll, but that is a cause for dishonour in their camp.      
   There are a few anomalies on the Petrovich table that are nonetheless correct! His dilemma is that he has painted himself into a corner of the room that he has built for his grand parsimonious scheme: "The number of original alphabetic letters is 22, which conflicts with the long-held conjecture that originally there were 27 letters, probably the result of incorrect extrapolation back from Ugaritic, a Semitic language with more than 22 consonants". Most readers would be baffled by this dogmatic declaration of faith, and I happen to know from long experience and experiment that it is a falsehood. His table of signs (published with an unfortunate misprint as "Chart of Pro-Sinaitic signs and alphabetic letter equivalents") belies his unfounded assertion: it has 24 letters! Incidentally, the later Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters representing 23 consonants (at least), since the penultimate letter has two forms (with a migrating dot) to indicate Shin or Sin; he takes no account of this in his counting, but he should have distinguished Shimsh (sun) and Thad (breast), as we did when we examined the Thebes tablets, which are conveniently ignored in his presentation; but his gross error is perceiving the sun-signs as breast-signs, and  relating all Shimsh and Thad signs to Hebrew shadayim, "breasts"; and by sleight of hand he duplicates (makes double) the Egyptian hieroglyph (D27) so that it is double-breasted; but there is no corresponding hieroglyph that I can find for Thad; the alphabetic breasts are simply drawn according to the personal knowledge of each writer (\/\/ for example). Douglas Petrovich is making the same basic error as Gordon Hamilton: insisting that every alphabet letter was a borrowed Egyptian hieroglyph; my table has a gap in this department for Waw, Taw, and Thad. Neither of these otherwise intelligent scholars consider the previous life of the consonantograms as syllabograms in the West Semitic proto-syllabary, and this is a grave sin of omission (a religious concept they would both understand).
   Never mind, we can still itemize some more good things about the Petrovich system, which can help us rehearse the correct identifications: he has two allographs (alternative consonantograms for a single sound) alternating for he has accepted my H.Z.R (court) for h., but according to his sacred laws every acrophonic source must be represented in the Hebrew Bible, and the consonant Z. (as in, shade, Hebrew s.el) never existed in the holy alphabet, so he has (1 Kings 6:36, referring to the Temple); the hank of thread is also h. (as it is when it functions as hieroglyph V28 in Egyptian texts), but it is actually the Semitic consonant h and the letter H, and another item must be added to the illegitimate tally of 22 that Petrovich has imposed on the data.
   When Petrovich says that the number of original alphabetic letters is 22, he must be referring to sounds rather than signs, and even then he seems to have forgotten about the consonant Sin; he has offered no letter representing it, and neither have I; it is supposed to be a Proto-Semitic consonant, but where is it in the early writing systems? Actually, he has a place for it, though it is located in a fanciful spot of his own fabrication, in his Samek section (where the name Samek is strangely avoided). For that sibilant, we both have the same two letters: fish and -|-|-|; my interpretation of the fish is the Semitic word samk (best known in Arabic); as there is no Biblical support for such a word, he invokes the rare root sarah. II, used for putrefaction; and so he chooses "stink" as the characteristic of the fish; true enough (after three days, guests and fish start to stink), but deep in a sea of improbability for being what the inventor of the proto-consonantary had in mind. For the other sign, I lean to the Egyptian djed pillar, a spinal column, and relate it to smk "support". Moving from the ocean of improbability into the ethereal realm of impossibility, he relates -|-|-| to the enigmatic hieroglyph (D3) for hair, which only has strokes on one side of its stem, and is thus disqualified; for the acrophonic word he adduces, se`ar (hair), which has initial Samek in later Hebrew, but Sin in the Bible (and Sh in Ugaritic). This digression allows me to mention in passing that the word for "field" in Sinai 353 is ShD (sun, door) as in Ugaritic, but with initial Sin in Biblical Hebrew. Notice also that Petrovich is apparently retrojecting Massoretic Hebrew across thousands of years to the Bronze Age, and someone should tell him he is being ridiculous, or tell me that I have got it wrong (I have not seen his description of Bronze Age Hebrew).  A reminder is in order here: the cuneiform alphabet (from Ugarit and Beth-Shemesh, and elsewhere) has both Samek signs, and one of the Theban abgadaries  has a djed above a fish, and the other (see above) has a space with faint marks on its right side (which is partly cut off in Petrie's photograph); we would naturally assume that they originally referred to separate sounds, perhaps S and "Tsch", or Samek and Sin.
   Ultimately, it does not matter what hieroglyphs and Hebrew words Petrovich has used in his acrophony games; the main thing is the correctness of the sound-values he has allotted to the signs; and from my viewing point (with vastly more specimens at my disposal than has been gathered by anyone else in this field) his system is basically correct, and could be used to read the inscriptions. Unfortunately, Petrovich's interpretations of Sinai proto-alphabetic texts are marred by his dismissal of contextual clues related to mining, metallurgy, and horticulture, which epigraphy and archaeology have provided (outlined  in Colless 1990, and disdainfully disregarded in the literature); instead, he introduces extraneous scenarios and characters from the Bible. His results have been critiqued by Aren Wilson-Wright, who has also propagated non-canonical exegesis of several of the Sinai scriptures. By good fortune, I have just been sent Wilson-Wright's summary of his attempt (failed) at reading the writing on Sinai 345, the bilingual sphinx; yesterday I was sent his full essay (failed again) from the same source (ACADEMIA, let the reader understand). We will attend to this in due course, but I want to see what Doug has done with the sun-sign on the Wadi el-Hol vertical (or oblique) inscription.
   Waiting in my box is a handy little essay by Ryan Davis, on  various proposals for identifying the two examples of this sign, and he genially cites my Cryptcracker site and my shimsh acrophone, and he even offers a reproduction of my drawing. For ready reference, I will convene both texts to the party (they are in fact about celebration banquets for the goddess `Anat, who is depicted, and named in letters 6-8).

 Wadi el-Ḥôl Inscription 2 and The Early Alphabetic Graph *ǵ, *ǵull-, ‘yoke’
Our ongoing sub-theme is David Vanderhooft's reading of the ar-Ra`i inscription, but he has also made a pronouncement on this letter (2 and 11 on the top diagram, indexed as Sh, using a diacritical mark not available to me here). Ryan Davis evokes the Eureka ("I have found") moment that Vanderhooft experienced, when he saw a double ox-yoke, and plausibly connected it in his mind with this sign, and with the West Semitic word `l "yoke", which would originally have had initial Ghayin, as in Arabic; but I have to tell him that he will now find his Ghayin gone. First, each instance of the sign has a larger circle on the left; but the yoke has equal-sized rings. Second, Gh has already been identified in those informative Thebes tablets, from ghinab "grape" (a vinestand with grapes), which can be matched in the Arabian scripts, and I think I can find it on the proto-alphabetic plaque from Puerto Rico, bottom left corner); but it is not attested in a text yet. In my first published article on the origin of the Alphabet (Abr-Nahrain, 26, 1988, p. 63) I suggested Ugaritic GNB "grapes", taken together with the South Arabian letter G, and the Egyptian vine-hieroglyph (M43).   On a scale of frequency of use (measurable in Ugaritic texts) Ghayin is in position 24,  as opposed to 11 and 12 for Sh and Th; therefore the improbability of Ghayin appearing twice in a short inscription is patent; the two words that are proposed to justify its presence are suspect, and one of them has the throwstick as P instead of G. The pair of oxen and their yoke are dead, and it is pointless to go on goading them. Fortunately a double yolk was not thrown into the ring, or one could be left with egg on one's face.
   My 1988 essay cleared the weeds from the ground, and planted the right seeds (I had recognized the overlooked garden, gn, in the Sinai texts); they came to fruition in my 1990 (Sinai) and 1991 (Canaan) publications; they made no impact on the confounded (not a swearword) consensus. Then I started sorting out the proto-syllabary and its relation to the proto-consonantary, working from Mendenhall's published decipherment (1985). The proto-alphabet was found to be a logo-morpho-consonantary: as in the Egyptian system the glyphs could be logograms and ideograms and rebuses (rebograms or morphograms); examples are lurking in the Hol inscription.
   The Hol consonantogram under review corresponds to a Middle Kingdom symbol of the god Ra`(sun-disc with one serpent); but its South Arabian counterpart is generally o--o (vertical stance,  sometimes with a curved line resembling the original) and representing Th (t), whereas Arabian Sh goes with the breast \/\/ (vertical stance, like its model, letter 10 on the horizontal Hol inscription); this is obviously a reversal (perhaps compare Hebrew shalom and Arabic salaam, for another change of sibilant, and the shibboleth versus sibboleth story, Judges 12:6); but it seems to indicate that the introduction of the proto-consonantary to Arabia was very early, as this variant of the sun-symbol was rare; it does occur on an unprovenanced and undated cylinder seal, together with the breast-sign (Hamilton, Origins, 2006, 397f, though he does not notice this; he sees it as the Sadey sign, which the consensus misidentifies as Q, a queer case of the falling domino effect).
   I would like to know how Petrovich views this sun-symbol, given that he has Thad but not Shimsh in his reduced scheme; curiously, we find it on his K-row; with his egyptologist's mental set, he plumps for the ka (k3, soul) symbol, hieroglyph D28, two arms with hands reaching upwards or outwards; he relates it implausibly to kap (palm of hand); but again we have to account for one hand being bigger than the other, and an arc connecting them instead of a straight line; he shares this clearly erroneous idea with Orly Goldwasser, a Jerusalem professor of egyptology, whose thoughts on the origin of the alphabet have been rejected, refuted already,  in two dozen aspects, in my own essay (2014) on "The origin of the Alphabet".
    Arrived at last. What is Prof. Petrovich's response to Associate Professor David Vanderhooft's proposition to read Z instead of Y in the YRB`L inscription? He offers precise but inaccurate statistics from the Middle and New Kingdom of Egypt for the use of "zayin (originally ze`ah, for eyebrows)". Pause for refreshment. It is getting hot in here, and I am transpiring like a horse. I happen to know that Doug uses the word "transpire" in the American manner, to mean "happen"; I was taught the Australian meaning "come to light", in the mantra "What transpired did not happen"; and to win a bet you use "transpire" to mean "sweat", and when challenged you open your dictionary to them, and then hold out your bushman's hat, with corks dangling on strings to discourage flies, and you collect the takings. Doug's word ze`ah means "transpiration"; this takes us back to the primeval garden (Genesis 3:19), where the sinner-man is told that in future he will make a living by the sweat of his face, or, as we would say, the sweat of his brow; from here it is a short but gigantic leap for Man from brow to eyebrows; this is typical of the Petrovich reasoning process, and the reader will recognize that it has remarkable affinity with my own mode of thinking.
   Well now, if you consult my 1988 article, you will find me arguing for = as zayp (late Hebrew for "bristle" or "eyebrow"), and, because the Aramaic cognate also has z and not d, I had to differ from the majority, and put Z not D on my first table of signs. I am still caught on this dental-buzz dilemma, but I am almost certain = is equivalent to the hieroglyph for "eyebrow" (D13); support for this comes from the Thebes abgadaries: one has the two strokes not quite parallel (as we have seen), and the other has an eyebrow above an eye. Even so, Hamilton's ingenious suggestion for the name Zayin merits mentioning: dayn, "these two", alongside *zayn, "weapon", specifically an ax; he gives a (false) instance on Sinai 345, the bilingual sphinx statuette. For his part, Doug asserts that Z (=) always has "horizontal pitch", and so he concurs with Chris Rollston that the letter is Yod on the ar-Ra`i inscription.
   Here is part of Sinai 345 displaying a vertical D, I do believe (tentatively, of course).
   My unprejudiced decipherment of all this sphinx's inscriptional utterances is now nettable worldwidely, first published in print in 1990, to universal disclaim and disregard:

   2013 Interpreting the Sinaitic Inscriptions in Context: A New Reading of Sinai 345 -
   Aren Wilson-Wright, as already noted, has published a definitive reading of this enigmatic line of writing, but it proves to be indefinite, because he abides by the consensus traditions, as defined and refined by Hamilton. The second half of the text is no longer a mystery, since Alan Gardiner decoded it admirably in 1916; it says LB`LT, "to (l) the Lady (b`lt); Ba`alat is the feminine form of Ba`al, "Lord", and she is also recognized elsewhere on the statuette as the Egyptian goddess Hat-Hor.  Wilson-Wright constructs the first half  thus, starting with a happy straw man created out of scratches detected by Hamilton: [H]ND WZ. "this inscription" (wz being a loanword from Egyptian). This does not ring true, I think we receive a more likely message along these lines: N (snake), D (| |), Q (qaw, cord wound on stick, with the end of the cord projecting to the left, please notice), Y (yad, arm with thumb and fingers viewed from the side). We are fortunate in having here the two letters competing for choice ("Pick me!") on the ar-Ra`i inscription, namely Y (erroneously said to be Zed [zayin, ax] by GJH and AW-W), and D (Dh, mistakenly called Z by some of the spectators). I am sorry, but we need to clean up this mess, which is characteristic of the plethora of excreta that litters this field; so it really will be a labour of Herakles, a herculean task, like shoveling horse-manure (and I did a lot of that when I was a boy, in preparation for this moment). Have I mentioned that I published a nice interpretation of this and the other Sinai inscriptions. in 1990? Hamilton cites my article, but goes his own way (333, 410, The Proto-Alphabetic Inscriptions of Sinai. AbrN 28:1-52; he improperly corrects my "Sinai" to "the Sinai", and positions my five articles quasi-alphabetically after Collon, on ancient dance). All the argumentation I am engaging in here should be in an appendix, separated from the main body of the essay; but my appendix is still inside my body, and this is an important matter, so the contest continues here (the link to the Cryptcracker post on this subject is provided above, with the photograph of the sphinx).
   The Y-shaped glyph is W for AW-W, and a doubtful snake for GJH (presumably a horned viper for N, with a cobra N preceding it on the other side of the D). It is clearly Q (an impossible identification for the consensus cabal, under the leadership of Frank Moore Cross, Jr; Albright had read NS.B as NQB, and this  belief  became set in stone). We keep seeing Q in all the old familiar places, but Thebes and Sinai are our favourite rendezvous (plural); and so there are two Q conspiracies in America at present in the Trump era (let the percipient reader understand). Look at the letter Q/q as we now delineate it; this form is more likely to have descended from a character with a stem (--o- or --o<) than a tied bag (Oo or O<); the Arabian forms of S. and Q sort this out for us (refer to the Arabia column of my table of signs). It's a cinch! However, we fervently hope the Arabian Semites did not do another reversal, as with Th and Sh.

   Here on the sphinx, we see the New Kingdom alternative hieroglyph (V25) which shows the end of the string (or the "spun fibre" as Douglas Petrovich and James Hoch would have it) projecting leftwards from the small circle that represents the bulk of the cord; this detail helps us date the inscriptions of Sinai 345 (on other grounds, Hamilton rightly puts it "ca. 1700-1500 B.C."). On our tablets from Thebes we see both forms. Here the reading is surely: Dh NQY LB`LT, "This is my offering to Ba`alat"; "my" (-y) is presumably referring to the person whose name appears in the monogram above the Q here: I read it as ox-head and fish, 'Asa (found in three other Sinai inscriptions).   

   Incidentally, but relevantly and importantly, on the corresponding area on the opposite side of the sphinx, the recurring expression "beloved of Ba`alat" is engraved, again with reference to 'Asa; but whereas the Middle Kingdom inscriptions had M'HB B`LT, it is here given only one B, but it has a dot in it, to indicate doubling (as also in other Sinai texts from the New Kingdom era). Note that the final T is missing, having disappeared with the piece that was broken off. The other inscription is Egyptian, "Beloved of Hat-Hor" (the Egyptian goddess identified with Semitic Ba`alat).
   We should remind ourselves how lucky we are to have these age-old documents from Egypt and Sinai. The six from Thebes were first published by W. M. Flinders Petrie in 1912, and left to languish in idleness; it now transpires (through the sweat of my brow) that the coded information recorded on them is ruinous to the consensus paradigm that flourished unfruitfully in the 20th century. We could blame Alan Gardiner for not relating them to the Sinai inscriptions that were subsequently provided to him by Flinders Petrie, and for which he offered a set of keys for their decipherment, in 1915, in a lecture delivered in the presence of Petrie, who was not convinced; but Petrie himself did not make this connection in his elaborate theory of the Formation of the Alphabet, the title of the monograph in which these photographs were included as a frontispiece.
    Let us revel in their riches once again. The sound we hear in the background  is the death-knell of the consensus fraud. Verily I say unto you, this  fraudulence, albeit innocent and honest, must come to an end.
   As we have already seen, the Q (cord wound on stick) with two dots for doubling is in the middle of this text, conveniently positioned beside a Waw to assist us in distinguishing each of them (no stroke at the top of its circle), with triangular Z, and = Dh/D, an open-mouth P, apparently a shepherd's crook for Lamed, and a stylized hand for Kap, all possibly adding up to an instruction to a craftsman: "To (l) refine (zqq), and (w) as (k) fine gold (pd)". The presence of D (and Z) shows that this is a proto-consonantal text, as might be expected, given that three of its companion tablets are abgadaries displaying the letters of the proto-consonantary (but not in the Alpha, Beta, Gamma order).

   We are searching for Q, but we will remind ourselves of other identifications along the way. Focus on the somewhat unfocussed bottom right corner (the additional photograph below gives a better reproduction of this tablet): definitely a circle on a stem, but apparently not Q or W, because it has a cross-stroke (or two?), and so it would be consonantal or syllabic T.A.

We now have to answer the compulsory question, whether the text is syllabic or consonantal. The adjacent glyph represents an altar (mizbah.) and this can only be proto-syllabic MI. Notice the sun-sign in the middle of the upper line; it shows the sun-disc with a serpent on each side; this could be Sh or SHI, but in this context it must be a syllabogram; the cosensus-trained epigraphers would be at a loss to explain this (a bow should shoot an arrow, not a cannonball), and they are equally perplexed by the two examples with a single snake on the Hol vertical inscription (examined above). Remember that the two tablets in the middle of the sextet display the letters of the proto-consonantary. I have just noticed, contrary to my expectations, that both have the djed-pillar (spinal column) for Samek (or Sin?); the smaller tablet  has its djed second from the left, above the fish (also Samek); the other tablet has a djed in its bottom line, partly faded, below a fractured double helix (twisted thread); on its right we see Thad (breast) and Shimsh (sun, without disc). To the left of all these, is a prone Q, with a dot for the cord, and one end of it projecting; this is the same as the Q on the sphinx; on the tablet at the top, the Q has a circle for the cord and no projection (--o-); its two dots are for doubling.

   As we proceed further along the line of writing of our new inscription, we could consider this resting place for the third piece of the puzzle.

   If we attach the stray piece to the other end, it fits nicely, and its top curve completes the Yod (compare the similar Yod on the sphinx, above, and look for this type on the Qeiyafa ostracon), and its bottom arc produces a Lamed; this l could be a preposition, "for" or "(belonging) to" the person named. Actually, given that the two short vertical lines of the Yod (thumb and finger of the hand) are not connected to the short curved line below them, this curve could be linked to the semicircle, and allowing that the ink has been washed away along the edge of the larger sherd, we could reconstruct a form of L as on the third sherd (notice the faded diagonal line in the B for an analogy).
   We have seen a doubling dot in a square B on the Sinai sphinx, and a closer inspection of the B here reveals a dot, just like the one in the adjacent `Ayin, but faded like the cross-bar to its left; this supplies the double B for the name Yerubba`al. Of course, in the Hebrew Bible the Bet coincidentally (or even historically connectedly) has a dagesh-dot for doubling.
   Next, if you apply your measuring instrument to the clear and whole L at the end, and then to the eviscerated phantom  L at the beginning, you will find that they have exactly the same width (or length). However, if there are two different forms of L, then we have a syllabary on our hands, but I would need more of this text to establish this. In any case, we now have LYRBB`L, "For Yrbb`l"; and following that, the ink marks could produce an angular throwstick for G, as in Gid`on, above a triangular D; the names appear in that order in Judges 8:35, Yerubba`al Gid`on; but we must lift up our heads, and withhold our speculative gaze, and just be grateful for the things that have been vouchsafed to us in these troubled times.
   Despite my hesitance, the categorization of this inscription must be attempted:
   Proto-syllabary: the L and the Y disqualify it from this classification; they are not attested as syllabograms.
   Proto-consonantary: the only letter-form it shares with the Thebes proto-consonantal abgadary (refer to the photographs of each reproduced together, above) is the unique inverted B; it does not have any of the distinguishing letters of this category (the recognition of Dh in the || of the Yod is fallacious, in the light of the new join with the small third fragment).
   Neo-consonantary: this is a likely but not demonstrable choice; its letters are different from the Phoenician style, and also the various Lakish forms; not a single one of its five readable letters has a counterpart in the Phoenician alphabet, and this could be because none would have an -i syllable, and this opens the possibility of the script being the neo-syllabary, since its -i syllabograms generally match the Phoenician and the new Israelian consonantary (examples: `Ayin without a dot; L with a straight back; Resh with a triangular head, not square as here)
   Neo-syllabary: the shapes and stances of the characters could be matched fairly well with examples on my unpublished table of signs collected from four main neo-syllabic inscriptions; the presumed G and D might be read as GIDI; the L could be LA; the `Ayin as `A; the R as RU; the Y could be YU (with -u as shewa); the B does not have a partner, at present, but it is an attested form.  This could produce Yurubba`ala Gidi[`unu], preceded by the preposition la ("for", remembering that the inscription was written before the vessel was baked). Against this is the direction of the line of writing; our main neo-syllabic texts (Izbet Sartah, Qeiyafa, Qubur Walayda) run from left to right, although the Beth-Shemesh ostracon has boustrophedon columns, proceeding from right to left.

"For Yerubba`al"

   Gid`on Yerubba`al seems to be a possible candidate for identification with the slightly uncertain reading on the three ar-Ra`i sherds, and he is certainly the model for my mission, that is. exploiting shock tactics: I am overthrowing  the false idols that are blinding the eyes of my collegial community, and smashing the containers that are concealing the light.

Inscribed spear-head

As a final free-will offering, here is another example of the inscriptions people send me, and ask whether I can read the writing for them; I have not been told where it is from (so it is "unprovenanced"), and I do not know for certain what it is; I think it is a spearhead, rather than an arrowhead; the markings certainly look like early West Semitic writing. Please understand that the photograph I am working on is better than this reproduction (at least the upper half is legible here). We will endeavour to establish which of the four syllabic and consonantal categories it belongs to, and also find its meaning, and translate it into English.

 Reading from the bottom (trusting that the entire inscription is contained in the photograph):
H. B T. P K B L ` M SS  ` D
The pisces pair (SS) are clear enough, and they vote against the proto-syllabary, as also the at the bottom (a square house with a round courtyard), and the Lamed in the middle (a crook); so we can say immediately that this is "early alphabetic", cashing in on a currency coin of phrase. If the proposed D, a pair of parallel strokes,  could be separated from the trunk of the enigmatic tree (not a letter known to me in West Semitic writing, but present in Cretan scripts) it would indicate the proto-consonantary. On the other hand, if the was representing an original H, it would confirm the presence of the neo-consonantary; we should keep that in mind.
   The only contextual clue that we have is that the artefact is apparently the head of a spear. We have encountered an ancient example of such a weapon in the Tuba tomb of a man, woman, and child; it was there for protective purposes, but it was ineffective under the circumstances, and their remains were violated. The Lakish dagger in a hero's resting place, carried a warlike caption: "Foe flee!"(Photo 15)
Speaking from a position of hindsight, I predict that this spear aimed at us has a similar warning  inscribed on it.
   Gathering the two fishes in our net, we may notice that they are in a watery environment, swimming synchronisationally over the water (M, logogram for mayim, water) from a spring (`ayin, logogram, eye or fount). Incidentally, these selfsame logograms (though they are merely consonantograms here, I hasten to declare) both function in these logographic ways in Sinai 357, which is all about watering a garden (gn) <SINAI IRRIGATION (357)>.
   We have seen some ancient West Semitic methods of showing doubled consonants: two dots (Photo 8) or one dot (Photo 13; and Sinai 345 <SINAI SPHINX SPEAKS (345)>). Here we put the same graphemes alongside each other: two fishes for SS.
   A sequence of significant signs now presents itself for our consideration: MSS`. In troubled moments like these the Bible is our ever-present refuge and resource, especially the comforting book of 'Iyyob (Job 41:18/17): an array of weapons is listed as being unable to pierce the hide of Leviathan, including massa`; this sounds like a missile, and the Greek Septuagint translation has doru, "spear", though this word basically means tree, then cut timber, including the shaft of a spear, and ultimately the weapon itself; this is all by the way, but I am clutching at twigs to explain the tree depicted on this spearhead; at least we now know what our artefact is; in the Bible verse our massa` is preceded by the word h.nyt, "spear", LXX longkhe, "spear-head" or "lance". As regards the SS in this word, the scribes have inserted into the round body of the Samek a doubling dot (a dagesh, as it is known in the trade, and appropriately it means "piercing",  as with a sword, but I can only find this root in a Syriac dictionary).
   Below this, in a tightly knit group, is a combination of a square (house), a crook, an eye, producing BL`, "swallow", either past tense "swallowed", or imperative mood "Swallow!". Next to the square is a hand, possibly; and below them a mouth (larger than the two eyes we  have seen for `ayin) , providing PK, "your mouth".
   The remaining three letters are (house with rounded courtyard, obscure but detectable), B (simple square house), (+-o). The verb H.BT. involves applying pressure, and opening forcibly (Jastrow, 417).
   H.BT. PK BL` MSS`
   "Open up your mouth and swallow the spear"
If there is a letter = at the top, and not simply a portion of the drawing of a tree, then we would add D, and say "this spear". That would be an indication that the inscription is proto-consonantal, not neo-consonantal, so this leaves me up in the air, suspended from a spear-point.
"Open up your mouth (and) swallow the spear".
   Presumably the victim would be expected to read this message as the missile neared him.
   Finally, what decision can we make about the script?
   B T. P K ` M could be syllabic or consonantal.  
   H. and S are only consonantal.
   If D is there, this would definitely be the proto-consonantal script, otherwise it could be neo-consonantal or proto-consonantal, but still in the Bronze Age, closer to the Lakish dagger than the arrowheads from the Levant <ARROWHEADS>.
   As already mentioned, one possibility for the provenance of the artefact is a Bronze-Age tomb of a warrior, as was the typical case of the Lakish dagger, and the spear in the grave where the Tuba amulets were found. I have also heard of a tomb with a dagger, a spearhead (shaft decomposed?), and a donkey.
   The table of signs provided here is proving its worth as a paradigm for interpreting proto-consonantal and neo-consonantal texts; complete tables for the proto-syllabary and neo-syllabary are under construction, as new inscriptions come to light. Tuba, Thebes, and Lakish have added to the proto-syllabic treasure-trove from Byblos; and the YRBB`L (Yurubba`ala) inscription has apparently increased the small neo-syllabic hoard. The unsound category "Early Alphabet" must be replaced by "Early West Semitic Scripts", with the proviso that West Semitic texts could also be transmitted in a variety of foreign systems.
 Alphabet evolution table:

The following message is, I trust, now obsolete:

 You have arrived, but this site is now too "secure" to be navigated. I could imagine that I am being silenced.

If you can help me fix this problem, I am listening.....

To activate the frozen links (in this blog, and in the index) start from here, where Cryptcracker started, though it will probably not respond, and will not even allow you to paint it in blue and copy it : 

Or google cryptcracker, and you might find a similar link to a specific site, which would be more cooperative; the older posts seem to be more amenable than these two new ones.

Or retype laboriously the one at the top (as I said, it will probably resist copying).

However, I recommend this one as a simpler port of entry, via Crete (copy it into the search-slot); at the end it awards you a gold ring, and so it would be worth while scrolling right through it while you are there, as it is a very important report on the reign of King Minos and his Semitic Kaptarians:

The first two essays in the series (this one, on YRB`L, and the next one, on Lakish inscriptions), in which I state my grand unifying theory, are available right here (in a frigid and rigid state?), but the one further down (on syllabic and consonantal inscriptions from Lakish, Tel Lachish) should be studied first

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